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Witch's Pool

Perthshire, Scotland

Well I’ll be dammed! The beavers are back in Scotland

Posted by Jonathan Broom on May 16, 2018
Well I’ll be dammed! The beavers are back in Scotland

Holidaymakers at Witch’s Pool go there primarily for the fishing: during the season the beautiful River Ericht is a great place to catch salmon, trout and grilse. (Though it’s worth pointing out that skiers like Witch’s Pool too, during the winter; the site is only a 40-minute, 25-mile drive from the Glenshee Ski Centre, the UK’s largest ski area.)

But if angling should pall, why not pay a visit to a local beaver colony? The River Tay Catchment – of which the Ericht is a part – now plays host to more than 50 separate beaver settlements, some close to Blairgowrie, about a mile and a half from Witch’s Pool.

Widely hunted for its fur and meat, the Eurasian beaver became extinct in Britain in the 16th Century. Today, however, one of the world’s largest rodents has made a comeback: wild, ‘free-living’ beaver populations can be found in Kent, Gloucestershire, Devon (on the River Otter, funnily enough), and particularly in Scotland.

Looking back to the turn of the millennium, what brought the beavers back to Scotland was probably 80% happenstance and 20% intention.

In the early noughties a number were released (by mistake or deliberately), or escaped from wildlife parks. Scottish Natural Heritage (an arm of the Scottish government) was all for removing them; however, pressure from the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, the Scottish Wildlife Trust and Forestry Commission Scotland caused the government to change its mind.

Pressure – and time. Observation over a prolonged period seemed to indicate that the beavers were, on the whole, a force for good: a missing element in Scotland’s natural biodiversity. So, in a spirit of environmental pragmatism, the government threw its weight behind a reintroduction programme: the first ‘official’ beavers were introduced in 2009, and in November 2016 the government announced that beavers could remain permanently, and would be given protected status as a native species within Scotland.

A Eurasian beaver: comfortable on land...

According to the Scottish Beaver Trial, a department within the Scottish Wildlife Trust: “The beaver is known as a ‘keystone species’ in forest and riparian environments. There are few species which have such significant and positive influences on ecosystem health and function. By modifying their habitats beavers have a positive effect on biodiversity. The modifications to their local environment can bring enormous benefits to other species including otters, water shrews, water voles, birds, invertebrates... and create more diverse habitats.”

...but even happier in the water

Not everyone has welcomed the reintroduction – farmers in particular remain incensed because the beavers’ inveterate tree-felling, logging and dam-building is perceived as altering water courses, undermining flood plains and so on, which could adversely affect both crops and livestock; but the overall consensus is that the reintroduction of these fascinating creatures is doing more good than harm: their dams, which they build to protectively raise water levels around their lodges upstream, help to balance local ecology by attracting species which prefer slow-moving water, such as frogs and damsel flies.

And if, as an angler, you do take time out of your quest to land ‘the one that got away’ in order to go and say hello to a returning British native, do please remember to thank him or her.

Because beaver ponds have been shown to have a beneficial effect on trout and salmon populations too.

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Jonathan Broom
Author: Jonathan Broom

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